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Op-Ed: Novato Should Stop Building Downtown Offices

An open letter to the Novato City Council in light of redevelopment decision. Send your own letters to the editor to brent.ainsworth@patch.com.

To the Novato City Council:

Having just read the conclusion of the throughout California as well as ruling it illegal to continue to fund them in any manner, it is my hope that the current council will immediately stop any efforts to build a downtown office complex, that they will repay the bond debt created to fund this project and that they will instead purchase an existing class B office building to house city workers. 

Throughout 2011 the council has been approached by many residents who have said this project is fiscally unsound. A petition has circulated to stop the council from pursuing the development of a costly downtown civic center using RDA funds that have no way of being repaid because of a lack of property tax revenue as well as the Governor's decision early in 2011 to close the RDA. Our city council refused to listen to residents who claimed we would do better buying a modest existing office and use the downtown property to fund a public/private partnership with a mix of retail, commercial and parking. Our city council gambled hundreds of thousands of dollars by moving ahead and creating a non taxable bond that was sold to fund the project by keeping the RDA open. 

Had our city council considered some of the alternatives being suggested they would have saved vital tax dollars, but instead they have continued to follow the same path of bloated government using tax dollars to fund projects that may appear attractive but do nothing to help create tax dollars to support city services. A public-private partnership on a project such as the downtown civic center would have allowed us to defray costs and create a source of badly needed revenue by working with the private sector rather than using state tax dollars. Over the years prominent Novato citizens have made this suggestion and been flatly turned down. We can't afford to continue to live as if the money will flow in through the state coffers and cover all our costs. The city must live within its means just as families are struggling to do and just as the state is struggling to do in order to avoid bankruptcy. 

I implore the Novato City Council to take immediate steps to repay the loan that no longer has funding through the RDA and to purchase modest city offices at a reduced cost. Moreover I demand that the Novato City Council listen to the voice of reason as well as the many voices of Novato residents when making financial decisions whose outcomes will affect our lives for generations. Now is not the time to live lavishly. You are accountable to all your constituents not just the ones that agree with you. Every decision you make determines the quality of our lives as a whole. Our city, whose bottom line is creating revenue to fund city services, should be run like a business. Our city coffers are not the personal piggy banks of our council members. Their job is to keep the city running in a fiscally responsible manner. That means focusing on planning and the economy.  We need a council that understands and accepts the reality of the tremendous debt that is burying our state. We need a council that will act with prudence and show respect for the people they serve. 

Tina McMillan 

Edwin Drake January 10, 2012 at 07:10 AM
As for Bio-Marin: How does this happen? If I'm Frank I'm phoning them once a week asking if everything is OK and if there's ANYTHING the city can do for you? I'm not saying we'll roll over and give them whatever they want, BUT the lines of communication need to be kept open so things like this don't come out of the blue. Wait till Fireman's Fund closes shop and the city blames everyone but themselves. One note: Once read that most Fortune 500 HQs go where the boss like to play (ie: golf, hunt, boat, etc) no matter the logic of the thing. Since BioMarin is moving to class A space in beautiful bldgs, (they really are nice, go take a look) maybe it's more of a commute and access issue than Novato stinks issue. Then again, isn't 75 Rowland going to be empty soon? ps: Happy New Year all
Sylvia Barry January 10, 2012 at 08:06 AM
As for Bio-Marin, I personally think this is purely a business decision on Bio-Marin's part. The Corporate Center in San Rafael is a relatively new building, designed and built specifically for this kind of purpose - corporate center - I go there at times for business reasons, so I am familiar with those buildings and the surroundings. It's more centralized in Marin and closer to the city (San Francisco), closer to transportation, to different restaurants and shops which means they will be able to attract more talent. Being new, I would think the design and infrastructure are also more geared towards today's business world. From a couple articles i read, it also has a lot more expansion possibilities for Bio-Marin, which means they don't need to move again if they expand in the future. This is looking from the real estate angle. As much as I wish we have the biotech/high tech center ready in Novato to house all high paying jobs and all the biotech talents and I am still rooting for that. But it will take time with the whole city behind it. Novato chose to be a laid back town and it can't have it both ways. I also seriously doubt city manager or chamber is surprised at the direction Bio-Marin took on this.
Baxter January 10, 2012 at 04:31 PM
All the more reason for the City of Novato NOT to rezone properties that are already zoned for Business Office/Commercial. Petaluma is a "laid back town" and Novato often compares itself with Petaluma, i.e., Novato wishing for the Suburban classification instead of Metropolitan. However, according to Tina (above) Petaluma is at 11% zoned commercial vs. Novato at 5%, with San Rafael at 17% and counting. With the SMART train station back in the works for construction, the City needs to keep Redwood Blvd. north of Fireman's Fund zoned for BO/Commercial and not rezoned for residential/affordable housing. Tenants of housing at this location will not take the train to get around Novato's services, schools, etc. unless they work and enroll at Hamilton because the train does not service all of Novato (not even the downtown!). The City will be making a big mistake if they rezone already commercially zoned property near Fireman's Fund. Keep that area business/corporate so there will actually be a reason to get on and off the train at the Atherton station.
Tina McMillan January 10, 2012 at 05:32 PM
With the RDA closing it will be substantially more difficult to find money to build affordable housing. Novato will still be required to update their housing element to include quotas. I don't know how this will be impacted by MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) but they are the folks that set the numbers related to the SMART train. Here is a link to a Dick Spotswood column lambasting MTC for purchasing a 1940's office building in SF to rehab. They will be moving out of Oakland and away from where the majority of their employees live. It is an interesting kind of hypocrisy when you say your focus is combining transportation, jobs and housing and yet you move away from that yourself. http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_19691993 I think that we need to add more commercial development in Novato to generate revenue to pay for infrastructure. Commercial is not the same as affordable housing. BioMarin was a wonderful business but we just lost them to San Rafael. At the very least we should have zoned 10% commercial. If you read the general plan from 1996 there was a specific shift away from allowing commercial development. It seems to be associated with more traffic congestion and damage to the environment. The problem with this assumption is the lack of balance between housing, jobs and resources. I believe it is time to update the general plan. We need to draw businesses with well paid jobs that will revive our local economy.
Trish Boorstein January 10, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Edwin, the floating easement was not given away. Michael Frank probably decided that the audience couldn't take another hit, so he postponed it to a January meeting. It's not on the agenda for tonight. He wants to sell it to Urban One for their development. The two lane road that will cross this property will be private, for their use only. We as a community should demand that this remain public and according to the Novato General Plan, continue from Rowland Blvd. all the way to hwy 37. This is such poor planning!!!!! Besides the McPhail property needs to be connected to this road so everyone can exit or enter via 37 to access all the developments including Vintage Oaks. We NEED two points of entrance to all this area! Please stay informed as to when it will be on the agenda for city meeting. Thanks

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